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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Monday, May 11, 2015

"The Prayer of Confession" from Mayflower Congregational Church UCC May 10, 2015

All Lives Matter
Lord of Life, we are surrounded by the politics of hatred and division. Every week brings news of another shooting or a city in flames over the death of another black man at the hands of the police. Black lives matter, Blue lives matter, Muslim lives matter? Could we simplify this please: All Lives Matter. Or to put it in the language of Peter's dream at Joppa: "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." Any questions? Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Let's Have a Talk About Justice


The Starbucks corporation tried, I believe sincerely, to do something right with it's "Race Together" initiative through which their employees would attempt to engage customers in a discussion about race relations in the U.S.

This ill-fated attempt to dialogue about the racial divide in America that has been exacerbated by police killings of unarmed black American died a quick death.  People simply did not wish to talk about social issues while they waiting for their morning Joe fix. 

Howard Schultz, of course, is not the only person who wishes we could talk more about inequality and shout less at one another.  However, I feel that the focus in this matter is all wrong.  Conversations about race, entitlement, racial privilege, welfare, not to mention immigration and sexual identity issues have the unfortunate effect of dividing us along battle lines.  Is there any type of conversation that through which we can achieve some sort of unity and consensus?  

I believe that there is at least one possible conversation that can do so.  We should be having a conversation about justice. Justice, after all, should be the goal of any community. It is the one quality upon which we can all agree is a universal good. We all want a nation based on justice, and this should be the focus of our national dialogue.


One of the first aspects we should talk about is what do we mean by the word "justice?"  When we stand with hand over heart pledging "justice for all," just what do we mean?  

That is what I will discuss in my next post.  Tell me what you think justice means.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sabotaging Their Own Success


I have begun to read a book that is based on an interesting premise.  How Children Succeed by Paul Tough seems to posit the idea that children experience success in school, college, and life because of the character traits they develop (or don't develop) that include things like patience, goal-setting, deferred gratification,  and perseverance.  These traits he seems to think are even more important than the skills we try to teach them at and earlier and earlier age.

I have just begun to read the book and will make further reports on it as I work through it, but I can see much sense in what he has said by the experience I have had in my own classroom. The main problem I seem to have in trying to help them learn what they need to know in order to succeed in school is their seeming inability to focus on the simplest tasks with distracting themselves through their behavior.  They will talk to each other, tease each other, grab at each other, and if I don't constantly monitor them, throw things at each other (including coins).  At times, I spend the majority of time in class and the majority of my energies in managing the class rather than teach them reading, writing, and thinking. My students succeed only in sabotaging their own success.

I know that I am supposed to "engage" them in learning, meaning that I, not they, are responsible for functioning classroom.  I also am supposed to set classroom behavior and policy and have my students adhere to it.  However, I have never felt that my efforts have yielded the result that these young people need to maximize their future success. 

I am not alone in this.  More and more teachers in urban schools are abandoning chaotic classrooms for school districts where their efforts have a greater chance of succeeding. We are experiencing alarming teacher shortages in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa school districts. At Centennial where I teach, we have a teacher turnover that reaches near 50% of our faculty each year.  Each year we are unable to fill vacancies in our core classes of English language arts, science, math, and social studies, and the students in those classes are "taught" by long-term substitutes who are able to do little more than babysitting thus compounding the problem should any teacher be found willing to take responsibility for their education.

I am looking forward to what Mr. Tough has to say on this matter, even more anxious to see if he has any solutions that I can implement.  

If anyone has any ideas on what I could do, I am more than willing to listen and learn.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bubble Kids


We return to school tomorrow to begin the final preparation for the statewide tests, which begin on April 13th and will go through the first week or so of May. 

We teacher will hear the words "teaching objectives," "test preparation," "bubble kids," and so on.

That last one, "bubble kids," really shows the harm of the high stakes testing game that all schools are playing. 


A "bubble kid" or "bubble student" is one who, by means through the benchmark or preparatory testing we have done, is likely "on the bubble" when it comes to passing the End of Instruction (EOI) test that is the new pay-off for students and their schools.  The idea is that we need to focus our effort on these students to push them from being on the failure side of the bubble to the passing side.

We are told that we should not neglect those students who seem at this point to have little hope of passing the test, but, in order to get the "biggest bang for our buck" (i.e. the best results in the number of students passing through our intervention), we need to pay extra attention to those on the bubble through increased mentoring, extra tutoring, and extra attention.

To me, this is rather poor educational practice.  One would think those most struggling would get most attention.  Nearly every teacher, administrator, and even educational consultant I have spoken with about this agrees with me, often with a "what can you do" shrug of their shoulders.  But they all, particularly the administrators and consultants, say in so many words, "Well, this is the reality of education these days."  It's a topsy-turvy, mad, mad, mad, mad world.


Friday, March 20, 2015

My Mission Statement

If there is one principle, one guiding concept for my life, I would hope that it is summed up in the word, "and Justice for All."  I have tried, as much as is within my feeble power, to bring about some measure of justice in the world. I hope that because I have lived, that the realm of Justice has been expanded at least somewhat.

This principle has guided the career decisions I have made as an urban school teacher in one of the poorest attendance zones in the state of Oklahoma. 

It has guided my voting, which is by and large for candidates of the Democratic Party, the party that most nearly mirrors my concept of Justice.

It has guided, in the main, my consuming habits meaning that whenever I have a choice, I buy locally. I also try to buy as much Fair Trade as I can when I cannot buy locally.

And it has guided the choices I have attempted to make in regards to the environment, conserving as much as possible, living with a little carbon footprint as I can manage.

I know that this sounds pretentious, but it is my choice.  I try not to judge those who may live different than I. ("Judge not, but discern to your heart's content.") I simply wish to affirm to myself, to challenge myself to live up to my stated life's principles. 

That's my motto. What's yours?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Attacking Teacher Unions

The Oklahoma legislature, a group that seeks new ways to embarrass those of us who live here, is getting ready to pass a law denying teachers in the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) the right to have their union dues deducted from their paychecks.
This is the latest assault on teachers' Constitutional right to organize and collectively bargain for our salaries and working conditions.  Pure and simple, it is an assault on our due process rights and freedoms, but it allows the politicians a group on which to lay blame.

Politicos of both parties love to praise teachers who are involved in educating and raising the coming generations of workers and citizens, except when it comes to paying the bill for our efforts.  We provide for them both a means of appearing compassionate, and a ready scapegoat when the system they have created fails to deliver the results they demand. 

After all, they cannot blame the students for what they see as the "failure" of public education, that would be cruel.  They cannot blame the parents, that would be political suicide. They cannot blame themselves, that would be an admission of their own failure.  So they blame the teachers, specifically the teacher unions, because that gives them the out they so desperately seek. 

Public education in Oklahoma has been underfunded for years. The only thing worse than education funding is the funding of social services in our state.  As a result, our prisons are overflowing, a quarter or more of our children grow up in poverty, and we fall further and further behind states that have have done a better job of their social funding.

There is now a growing teacher shortage in our state. School districts have had to try to recruit teachers from foreign lands, use Teach for America instructors just out of college (most of whom will remain in Oklahoma only two years before seeking better jobs in other states), or give "emergency" certifications to warm bodies to try and educate struggling students.

And people wonder why this is so.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Lazy Blogger


Okay, I will admit that I am one lazy blogger.  I have not been posting very much over the last few years because I felt like I was under so much pressure at school.  

It is not as though the pressure is any less, but A) I've gotten used to it, somewhat, and B) We have had a change of administration that seems bit more, well, sympathetic to the teachers' situation. 

In any case, I will start doing more writing starting with some of my reading.  
I have read quite a bit this year, 16 books so far, mostly Steampunk adventures, but also history, baseball, chess, politics, even pedagogy (teaching stuff).  You can see what I have read over on my Goodreads page, Goodreads, My Books.

I do the Goodreads Book Challenge. My challenge is to read 50 books this year and so far I am 6 books ahead of schedule. There has been some debate over whether a challenge like this is a good or bad thing.  I find it a good incentive to keep reading, especially when I feel like resorting to a time waster (like blogging???). 

I will keep you posted on my readings.